Torreys Peak is on the East perimeter of Summit County At 14,267’ Torreys is now the highest UpSki ascent to date, and possibly a world record for highest wind powered ski ascent to a mountain summit?? In the Alps there are only 6 peaks higher and in N America ~50 higher peaks only 10 of which are in the lower 48 states.
We had been wanting to peg a 14er all season… but avalanche conditions prompted more conservative backcountry choices through winter. Waiting until late spring was the ticket to safer opportunities. As the snow corned up, Torreys received a good dumping a week before the ascent.
Finding UpSki lines on mountains isn’t the same as just picking up the guide book and reading route descriptions. Most of what we pursue has not been done before (at least not wind powered). Torreys, had been off the radar until a week before the attempt. A fresh perspective with the map and recent time in the field on similar mountains suggested it would go easily.
I scoped around the valley on May 31st to get a better feel for conditions, and walked the first 3 miles of the approach get a feel for conditions below tree-line. I don’t like dealing with unexpected problems or route finding difficulties below tree-line before 7am with all my ski gear, in the dark, etc. So, whenever possible I try to make an afternoon run/hike out of the approach. The approach would consist of 2miles of walking on graded road, followed by 3 miles of high clearance 4×4 road turning to snowpack after the first mile (around 11,200’). Everything looked pretty good. A quick call to the forest service office indicated that the current winter time road closure would remain in place for a few more weeks.
Target wind for the line would be WSW – SSE… any amount would be fine if the direction is right.
Leaving the car at 5:30am at first light, walking the road was a nice wake up. And once on snow, it was still firm from the nights freeze (always a good thing). However, the technical crux of the whole day came very early:
At 6:30am, this bridge (1ft wide x 15’ long) was coated with up to ¼” of solid ice… and sloped downstream a few degrees. If I went for it, when I got to the middle I would likely slide off and be in a world of cold – wet – hurt. The previous affair with this bridge in the afternoon on a sunny day was not so problematic. I spent half an hour breaking the ice off the bridge in-order to cross it. This was a very tedious process on the flexing bridge 6” above the water with a snow shovel in my hands. An ice axe would have made faster work of it, but I didn’t bring it.
The rest of the approach was trouble free. But, you always worry that the wind won’t come, or will be down drafting, and you’ll end up skinning all the way to the summit (never as fun). But with a little faith, I kept going.
I approached the location where I expected to find wind: 12,600’ on the SW flanks of the mountain. 100 feet higher and I ripped skins and prepared to launch. The first 500feet were underpowered, but with skis, I continued upward progress with a mix of Upskiing and Upski assisted sidestepping. The wind blows stronger the higher you get… all I had to do was get high enough and then I’d be cruising. After 30 minutes of variable progress, things kicked in. It would take less than 15 minutes to ascend the final 1000’ to the summit.
Snow conditions were very good (firm), but patchy. The firm late season snow makes it easy to maneuver around rocks and reduces drag allowing for firm edging and fast speeds. Surprisingly, even mid-week these mountains see a lot of traffic. And the distant forms of other skiers quickly took shape as I ascended.
With a side/upslope wind, it takes a series of tacks to reach the summit. In each tack I start by ascending cross slope with the wind. Eventually running out of snow, or failing to a patch of rocks. Upon running out of room (rocks, cliff, whatever) simply collapse the canopy, and traverse downhill & upwind… Then turn around, re-inflate the canopy, and start up again.
Having stood atop Torreys years ago, I knew the summit was small, leaving no room for mistakes. Downwind of the summit, the mountain falls away nearly vertical for over 1000’. As I approached the summit I was mentally prepared to pull any and all emergency releases to stop safely. You must always be prepared for mishaps or mega-gusts…especially approaching pointy summits. But it was drama free, I pegged the summit, collapsed the canopy, and stopped on top all in a matter of seconds… just as planned.
It takes ~1-2 minutes to pack the canopy and transition for descent in typical conditions such as this. With the canopy packed, I started descending… but lower on the mountain got side-tracked and decided to re-launch, explore more of the mountain, and tag the summit again (I did come out to ski and have fun after all) .
We look forward to pursuing more 14ers and other significant summits next season… can’t wait!